In this June/July 2022 Today's Farmer

The future of dairy
Robotic technology allows Mar Gold Guernseys to operate against the odds

by Jessica Ekern

Sustainability scores big at Lebanon Feed Mill

by Jessica Ekern

Restoring the harmony

Dunn Ranch Prairie is rebuilding the ecosystem of the prairie, one project at a time

by Allison Jenkins

Working knowledge
ACME chute helps Jackson FFA members learn best practices in animal health

by Steve Stumpe

Q&A with MFA - View on flipbook -
Learn more about your cooperative leaders
Feature on Steve Sumpe, MFA Director

Ranch dog health
Working canines face unique risks, wellness considerations

By Allison Jenkins

Celebrating in cattle country
Small town holds big festival to honor the beef industry

By Allison Jenkins

Troubled waters? Find an alternative
Make sure grazing livestock have enough to drink this summer

by Dr. Jim White

No simple solution to micronutrient management
Be sure major soil fertility needs are addressed before looking at the minors

by Thad Becker

Country Corner

No more eminent domain for private gain?

by Allison Jenkins

Contest is a first for FFA
Ag Experience enters its 10th year
Verslues awarded Honorary State FFA Degree

Markets - via flipbook
Corn: Uncertainty in markets continues
Soybeans: South America production keeps dropping
Cattle: Bright outlook for stocker cattle
Wheat: Winter crop condition questionable

Salad days

BUY, sell, trade

Precision efficiencies aren’t just for row crops

by Ernie Verslues

Click below to view the June/July Issue as a flip book.

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Celebrating in cattle country

Community festivals are known for their food, fun and fel­lowship. And the inaugural Missouri Beef Days in Bolivar checked all the box­es. Parade. Rodeo. Banquet. Concert. Vendors. Held May 16-21, this first-ever event offered all the activities usually found at small-town shindigs and more.

But education—not just entertainment—was a key focus of the weeklong festival. Learning opportunities for farmers, students and the public were inte­gral parts of the Beef Days schedule.

“Many of the festivities were just good ol’ family fun, centered around our celebration of the beef industry,” said Matt Henenberg, president of the Missouri Beef Days board. “But the other goals for this event are to educate everyone about the importance of the cattle industry to this area, our state and the nation as well as recognizing and appreciating those who work so hard to make beef available to everyone else.”

The genesis of Beef Days started three years ago when members of the Boli­var Chamber of Commerce and local community leaders wanted to create an event that would help bring people to town and highlight what the area had to offer. Their brainstorming led to agriculture, specifically cattle production. According to USDA, Missouri ranks third in the nation in the number of beef cows with 2 million head. Polk County, where Bolivar is located, consistently ranks as one of the top three counties in the state in the number of beef cattle as well as one of the top 20 counties in the nation.

Those statistics made a beef-themed event the logical choice, Henenberg said. A nonprofit group was created, board seated, committees formed and plans written. However, like many gatherings over the past two-plus years, COVID-19 put everything on hold. When pandemic relief finally came in sight, Missouri Beef Days became a reality. 

“Beef is our biggest industry in Polk Coun­ty,” Henenberg said. “The ground here is too rocky to be suited for anything but livestock, so our farmers use the land to produce the best source of protein out there. We are also the most efficient beef producers in the country with more cows per square mile than any­where else. We believe that we need to honor that.”

With education at the core of their mission, organizers decided to kick off Missouri Beef Days by giving attendees a firsthand look at the area’s cattle industry with tours of farms and businesses during the first three nights. The itinerary was designed to show various ways that area residents are contributing to the success of the beef industry—from training farmers and ranchers to raising cattle and processing meat. More than 300 people participated in the tours, a number that Henenberg said exceeded expectations.

“We recently bought some land, and I was interested in see­ing what farmers are doing,” said Betsy Berry of Bolivar, one of the tour attendees. “I think this is a great thing for our commu­nity.”

Tours started on the campus of Southwest Baptist Universi­ty, where Dr. John Murphy, associate professor of biology, and several students gave a presentation about the college’s new ag­riculture program. Starting in the fall of 2022, SBU is adding a four-year agribusiness degree and a three-year minor in agricul­ture production. These programs are designed so that students receive hands-on education with coursework in business, crop production, soil science and animal science.

Murphy, who is heading SBU’s new agriculture program, owns and operates a nearby 800-acre farm with 200 head of cattle. Students already are using his farm to conduct research projects, with a team winning a national research award this spring.

“Our first year is coming up, but we’ve been conducting research for the last four years,” Murphy said. “I’ve had 24 stu­dents go through our research lab. They have published scientif­ic papers and presented at national conferences. So, while it’s a new program that we’re going to roll out, we’re already making an impact, and we’ll continue to build on that.”

After the presentation at SBU, tour attendees loaded on buses to visit Missouri Prime Beef Packers in Pleasant Hope, a state-of-the-art, USDA-inspected plant that processes some 500 head of cattle each day. The facility is the local home of Show Me Beef, which provides retail and food-service establish­ments with beef that is raised, finished and harvested in Missouri.

Next stop was Lazy L Ranch in northern Polk County, where attendees toured the diversified cow-calf and feeder cattle operation. The ranch recently expanded into Wagyu cattle, a Japanese breed known for its top-end, highly marbled beef that’s prized by restaurants and consumers. The American Wagyu Association only shows about 5,000 head of Wagyu mama cows registered in the United States. Lazy L Ranch has 60 full-blooded cows, making them one of the larg­est Wagyu operations around.

The tour ended at Buchen Processing in Humansville, giving participants a glimpse into a local meat-packing business. Owned and operated by fifth-generation cattle producer Patrick Buchen, the facility processes 12 head of cattle each week with six full-time employees—including a certified chef as the meat cutter. Buchen and his wife, Susan, purchased the processing plant from its longtime owners, the York family, in 2021. The Buchens also raise feeder cattle on their nearby farm with a focus on genetic testing to produce prime-grade beef.

While tour participants snacked on beef eggrolls, Buchen gave an overview of the facility, which he said brought him “full circle” in the cattle business.

“I grew up in this industry, and I’ve worked at three different purebred associations,” he said. “But once we started pulling the hides off, I was dumbfounded about how much I didn’t know about this industry that I love. It’s that end product that we, as producers, should know better than anything.”

Beef Days’ educational offerings extended beyond the tours with efforts to reach young people in the community. The Polk County Cattlemen’s Association provided beef lunches to nearly 2,000 students in Bolivar schools as well as 1,500 Southwest Baptist University students.

“There’s a lot of negative news and false information about the beef industry out there, so one of the things we wanted to do was help change that perception with our young people,” Henenberg said. “We fed the students all-beef hamburgers and then shared some information with them about cattle produc­tion and beef nutrition.”

Another big draw to the event was a presentation by re­nowned professor and animal behaviorist Temple Grandin, who is noted for her trailblazing work as a spokesperson for people with autism and her lifelong work with animal behavior. Some 1,300 people attended her presentation on Saturday night.

In total, Henenberg said he estimates more than 10,000 people attended Beef Days this year, and plans are already in the works for next year’s event.

“We’re proud of our heritage, way of life, and what this industry means to us, our families and communities,” he said. “I hope everyone takes home a better appreciation for cattle production and our farmers and learns something about the beef industry.”

To learn more or keep up with plans for next year’s event, visit online at missouribeefdays.com.

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Robotic technology allows Mar Gold Guernseys to operate against the odds

In 2002, Marlane Williams moved from Florida back to her native Missouri for a fresh start. She had a new full-time job as a healthcare facility administrator. She bought a 1920s farmhouse in Pierce City with 40 acres, sight unseen. She wanted her own dairy farm—even if it meant having to do it by herself.

“When I first moved here, I’m sure a lot of people thought, ‘What is this young blonde woman from Florida going to do with dairy cows and a full-time job?’” Williams said. “Well, they saw my determination, and they don’t think a thing about it anymore. I’m just like all the rest of the dairy producers left in the area, trying to do what it takes to do what you love.”

Growing up on a dairy farm in Renick, Mo., Williams forged a bond with her mother, Judy Kirchhoff, milking Guernseys. They quit milking cows in 1977, but Williams never lost her passion for dairying.

“My siblings did other chores on the farm, but I loved milking and spending that time with my mother,” Williams said. “Dairy is in my blood. You either love it or hate it, because you don’t get into this business for the money.”

Only 33% of dairy farmers are female, a hurdle that never hindered Williams’ drive to own a dairy. Mar Gold Guernseys began as a Grade C operation with only eight cows in December 2002.

“As small as it was, I was just so happy because I finally had my dairy farm that I had wanted for so many years,” Williams said.

Within five years, Mar Gold was upgraded to a Grade A dairy with 60 Guern­seys in the herd. Williams used 10 milking stanchions before modifying the barn and installing a double-6 herringbone parlor in 2012. Her vision was taking shape, but there were a few bumps along the way.

Milking before and after her full-time job and finding time to do chores and general mainte­nance, Williams discovered that her dairy dream left no time for sleep. Weekends were also filled with farm tasks almost around the clock. To provide some relief, she hired milkers for the morning shift, but that added another layer of complications into the mix.

“The snow was waist deep, and the two people who were helping me were threatening to quit,” Williams said. “I knew I could not continue this way. My op­tions were to quit my job and milk full time, get rid of my dairy, or keep my full-time job and get a robot.”

Six years ago, Williams approached John King, president of Seneca Dairy Supply, a dairy equipment dealer in Neosho, Mo., with her idea about robotic milking.

“Labor to milk the cows was a real concern, creating prob­lems when the hired help was unable or failed to show up,” King said. “She thought robot milking might be the answer, and thus the process began.”

King worked with Williams to find the right solution. They decided that the Lely Astronaut A4 robotic milking system would provide the most advanced technology and suit her needs. The system also allows the cows to be on their own schedule.

“I was the first one in southwest Missouri (to own a robotic milking system) and the second one in Missouri,” Williams said.

After the initial decision to go robotic and months of research on how the technology would work, it took almost a year to see the idea come to fruition. The barn had to be modified again, and the high-tech system was installed. 

“The day we moved Marlane’s cows to the robot began three days of continually pushing cows through the system,” King said. “We all took shifts.”

At first, the transition was anything but easy, Williams said, re­flecting on those early days of switching to robotic technology.

“They told me it was going to be three days of hell, three weeks of questioning the decision, and then at three months, it will be OK,” she said. “We started with 45 cows to lighten the workload and worked 24 hours a day for the first three days. After three weeks, I was thinking, ‘Can I return this thing and just go back to my old barn?’”

The process gets better as the cows learn there is a reward of feed in the robot, said King.

“The Lely concept is cow comfort, allowing her to do what is natural—milking, feeding, resting, going to water—thus creating a stress-free environment,” he said. “Profitability and sustainability are the goals.”

Seeing the robotic milker working inside a barn built in the 1920s is quite astonishing, cobwebs and all. The sooth­ing symphony of buzzing, pumping, spraying and gushing is accompanied by red laser lights lining up the cow to the machine. It is similar to being in an automatic car wash, where the driver sits back and relaxes while the machine does all the work.

The robot does everything a traditional milking system does and more. The cow enters the station and is fed pellets while the milking process begins. The robotic arm goes into action, first cleaning the teats with brushes, sanitizing the area and blowing air to dry them. Using the laser as a guide, the teat cups are attached, and milking begins.

A computer panel shows how much milk is flowing from each of the four quarters. Milk flow is continuously moni­tored by the machine, and when the output from a quarter drops below a certain level, the teat cup will disconnect. Once milking is complete, the teats are cleaned again and sprayed with iodine.

Cows can enter the milk barn when they choose, day or night. Williams sees a heavy milking period between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m.

“We hope to achieve 2.7 to 3.2 average milk­ings a day per cow,” King said.

Williams uses a mobile app to check the milk­ing machine gauges when she is not in the barn. The system allows her to manage the Guernsey herd remotely, feed and milk the cows, and cold store the milk so it’s ready for pickup. The tech­nology also monitors cow health. 

“You are able to manage your cows better,” Williams said.

Nutrition is a key part of that management. Mar Gold’s Guernseys are fed MFA Dairy Select pellets while they are milked. Like most MFA dairy feeds, it has chelated min­erals for easy absorption; buffer to help balance rumen pH; vitamin E, zinc and selenium for animal health; and yeasts and fermentation extracts for improved digestion.

“Feed is an excellent motivator for cows,” said Chuck Hubbert, MFA key account manager who has worked with Williams for more than 10 years. “MFA Dairy Select is a clean pellet that runs through her robot nicely. Marlane switched to pellets before the installing robot to help transition the cows more easily.”

Williams also uses MFA 22/20 milk replacer for her baby calves and weans them on MFA Stand Out calf starter. Eventually, she switches them to a commodity blend that contains MFA Super 10 mineral. Dry cows and larger heifers get another commodity blend that contains MFA Dry Cow Mineral, extra yeast and vitamin E.

All of the rations contain ClariFly, a feed-through larvi­cide that kills flies before they can become biting, annoying, disease-carrying adults. Flies con­tribute to serious losses for livestock producers each year by spreading disease, feeding on animals, and greatly decreasing productivity—espe­cially in dairies. ClariFly’s formulation specifically targets stable flies and house flies, the two most economically damaging pests for dairy producers.

“ClariFly does a great job preventing flies from developing into adults and causing problems,” Hubbert said.

Any cow on the farm with a green halter is in training. Before heifers start milking, Williams sends them into the barn to feed and hear the robot, so they get accustomed to the system. 

Each cow wears an electronic responder around her neck, and the robot’s computer reads the data each time she enters the stall. This gives Williams an overview of each cow’s health, milk yield, lactation status and history.

“I get a plethora of reports,” Williams said, adding that she reviews the reports each weeknight and looks at them twice a day on weekends so she can better serve her Guernseys.

Today, counting the lactating cows, dry cows, heifers and calves, Williams’ herd size runs from 150 to about 175 regis­tered Guernseys. As she walks through the pastures, her strong bond with the cows is evident. The docile animals follow her as she greets each one with a “pretty girl” or “sweet mama.”

“Marlane is very passionate about dairying,” Hubbert said. “She loves her cows.”

Over the past 20 years, Williams’ dream of owning a dairy farm has taken many different twists and turns, but, with the help of technology, her operation is thriving today.

“The switch to the robotic milking system has really been a lifestyle change,” said Williams. “The stress of relying on hired help is gone. Metabolic issues such as ketosis and milk fever are also reduced. The cows seem to breed back sooner, which may be due to less stress on them.”

Even King, whose business deals in robotic equipment, admits he was skeptical at first about whether the technology would find widespread acceptance. Its success at Mar Gold Guernseys has helped change his mind.

“Because of the financial investment, I believed that robot milkers were only being purchased by those who could afford them,” King said. “I soon began to realize the economic benefits—increased milk production and feed efficiencies as well as labor savings. You know that your cows are being milked around the clock. I believe robotic milking will have a significant role in the future of dairying.” 

Guernsey: The Golden Breed

With its all-Guernsey herd, Mar Gold Dairy continues a long tradition that began more than 1,000 years ago. The breed originated on the Isle of Guernsey, located off the coast of Normandy, France. Around 960 AD, Robert Duke of Normandy sent monks to the island to educate the natives on how to cultivate the soil and defend the land. The monks brought with them the best bloodlines of French cattle and devel­oped the Guernsey from a mix of Brindle cattle, also known as Alder­neys, and the Froment du Leon.

The breed made its debut in the U.S. in 1840 when three Alderney cows were brought to New York, followed by a bull and two heifers from the Isle of Guernsey. These animals were the original stock of a great majority of the Guernseys that make up the breed’s national herd today.

The American Guernsey Cattle Club was formed in 1877 to register and maintain genetic information on the breed. Since then, the organi­zation has registered over 3 million Guernseys.

The Guernsey cow is known for producing high-butterfat, high-pro­tein milk with a high concentration of beta carotene. They do this while consuming 20% to 30% less feed per pound of milk produced than larger dairy breeds.

Guernseys are also excellent grazers that easily and efficiently work well in pasture-based milk production. They’re also known for mild temperament and calving ease.

Today, even as numbers decrease across the country in most all dairy breeds, Guernsey registration numbers are increasing. In both mixed and 100% Guernsey herds, the breed has proven to be competitive in a variety of dairy operations, from small, intensive-grazing dairies to large commercial enterprises.

— Information compiled from the American Guernsey Association

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